Speaking about its various contracts across the country, the Millbrook spokesperson said: “transitioning from one provider to another is often challenging and we are working closely with individual service users and their representatives to address the feedback we have received […] we are having detailed discussions with commissioners around eligibility criteria specifically, and service improvement more generally.” All wheelchair patients are “triaged and prioritised based on clinical need,” they said.
Even NHS doctors themselves have had to resort to extra measures to get wheelchairs. Dr Hannah Barham-Brown, who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, had to use a crowdfunding campaign for her own wheelchair so that she could work as a doctor.
She campaigns for wheelchair users rights, and also works with the General Medical Council to make a career in medicine more accessible. She was named by the Shaw Trust as one of the top 100 most influential people living with disability in Britain in 2018.
“Outsourcing services to companies who are unable to fulfil the needs of the patients who rely on them for their very independence undermines everything the NHS stands for,” she told the Bureau. “These companies are being paid, by the taxpayer, for a service that is literally not delivering the goods. In the middle of all of this, disabled people are left unable to leave their homes, unable to access education, their friends or work.”
“We want to be able to work, to contribute to society, and it makes economic sense to provide the wheelchairs we need in order to do so.”
Dr Barham-Brown added: “Wheelchairs are more than simply a piece of equipment; they are a lifeline. A lifeline that saves people from being prisoners in their own homes. If companies are unable to provide this in a timely manner, then these contracts should be taken from them, and returned to the health service.
“Systems which allow these companies to take up contracts and let down patients in such a fundamental way are clearly not fit for purpose, and it is disabled people who are left bearing the brunt of this failure.”
Header image of Cariad Howat by Morten Watkins, Solent News and Photo Agency